I’m Chris Tubb and I’m a Digital Workplace and Intranet Consultant and I hate telling people what I do at parties.
I work with organisations on their digital workplace and intranet strategy, governance and measurement techniques.
This is a story, not about how we define solutions, but how we define problems.
The first question I ask is why they are thinking of doing things now - what has sparked it. I call this the Spark.
The Spark is the reason that people are thinking about creating a plan to change their intranet
Sparks can come from anywhere Something has broken, someone’s had an idea, something’s now out of support Maybe there’s a merger, or a reorg or a divestment. Or most frighteningly the CEO has read something in an in-flight magazine after a couple of executive lounge Gin and tonics.
Individuals or groups say “RIght! let’s do this!” incant a load of product names as if they were spells at Hogwarts and off they go with a project. And it feels FANTASTIC. It feels so great to start something. It gives you a sense of purpose and meaning.
You don’t need to be a genius to work out that if you get the problem wrong, there is no point whether the solution is good or bad.
Albert here knew where to put the effort, but so often we are so keen to start blue-sky solutioneering that we take the spark and consider our problem defined.
But this is how projects can go wrong before they’ve even begun
You can’t solve the wrong problem. Even if you do it well, nobody will care, Once projects have gone wrong there is nothing you can do.
No amount of testing, training, usability or communications that will bring it back on track. The thing is you’ve worked out what the solution is before you’ve worked out what the problem is. It is possible get it right instinctively - maybe you’re a natural and you just knew. Maybe you were born under a lucky star. But it is much more likely that you will spend your budget in fire and fury and then worry about the lack of impact of what you have provided. The reality of users, stakeholders and the environment will catch up with you in the end.
That’s the problem with reality. It really doesn’t care what you believe to be true. Insert your brexit gag of choice here.
And no one is going to tell you until it is too late
No one in your project – they are having a great time. Not your intranet consultant – they’ve got a statement of work to deliver Not your technical supplier – they’ve seen it all before.
Your project becomes a conspiracy of mediocrity, in a little bubble of busy belief and prospective billable days. Everyone is so happy to be running around with purpose and budget that no one stops to wonder if what they are doing is right
Once we define a problem, people become fixed on it. If we assume a problem and assume a solution the outcome isn’t going to be good. Is it any wonder: We have ESN’s and collaboration platforms that people don’t use We have content people don’t read We become obsessed with “adoption” as a way to validate us back to our bubble of belief
The danger is that you are there, holding the match that burned all that money and effort.
Even if you really, truly believed you were solving the right problems your fingers are going to be scorched.
It is not your duty to deliver the spark. It is your duty, to use the spark as a little bit of light, a little bit of energy to get things moving and discover the right problem.
Fortunately there’s a really good process that exists to make sure that you are solving the right problem.
The problem is, you think it is a document or a form you need to fill in……and if you are like the majority of intranet managers you haven’t even got that. It’s called a strategy.
A strategy is a process that discovers your problems, defines a solution and create a plan to deliver it. It not only frames the future state you want to create, but considers how you will get there.
It helps you to discover the needs of users, your organisation It helps you to diagnose why things are as they are, what you are bad at and what obstacles you will face. At it’s heart should be a creative, clever idea – a guiding policy - as unique as your circumstances that clarifies the benefits that your plan will bring and carefully explains your rationale for this course of action. It gives you direction so you can remember what you are concentrating on, and what you are going to say, no to. and it provides you with a plan of actions and initiatives – that tactics that deliver your solutions.
It could take a week, it could take 6 months. It could be you doing it on your own, it could be a team of 10 and it is a process that needs to be iterative reacting to changes and increasing maturity.
But most of all it ensures that the problems that are out there in your organisation, are identified and addressed, so that instead of vainly burning money and resources, you are lighting a bonfire of things that people hate.
And strategy gives you two other important things:
Firstly it gives you perspective — the ability to see the both the detail and the long view, the good and the bad, the needs and the wants, the benefits and the costs, the opportunities and the risks.
But it also gives you Control — the ability to guide outcomes, to make promises and deliver them, to say NO and the discipline to actually ship.
Without Perspective or Control you are in the world of politics. Who shouts loudest gets to say how resources are controlled. Your expert opinion will do hand to hand combat with your colleagues’ laypersons’ ignorance.
Perspective without control leaves you stuck in the world of needs, sensitive to what people want but unable to deliver it to them.
Control without perspective leaves you languishing in the bureaucratic world of processes - fine for an operating model, but unable to change, bend and flex.
But combine the reality enhancing properties of perspective and the discipline of control and you are in good shape to be the captain of your ship of transformation. Needs and Process are at your command, and instead of battling politics, you win hearts and minds.
The spark is only bright when the scene is so dull. With a strategy in place the CEO, your Boss, or the IT bloke will come up with a crazy idea, but you’ll have the evidence to explain why… or realise “why not”. By learning how to create strategy (and not just for intranet strategy) will help your career. It is the same process for content strategy, communications strategy, even business strategy.
With a strategy in place you’ll be taken much more seriously as a player in your organisation.
These are essential skills I’m afraid we mostly lack as a profession.
And as intranet and collaboration platforms become cheaper to implement our profession is getting bigger as smaller organisations that haven’t had intranet people before start wrestling with intranet practices like many of us have for 20 years.
These newbies need our support. They won’t have intranet in their job title, and may know nothing of our knowledge, skills and our community.
The spark, or how your intranet project can go wrong before you even start - Chris Tubb